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Somewhat Awkward Introduction

Hi there,

 

Grab yourself a coffee, beer, protein shake, or beverage of your choice, and take a seat. Please allow me to introduce myself. I promise I’ll try not to ramble too much.

 

My name is Jasper, and at the time of starting this blog, I’m 28 years old. I was assigned female at birth, but have identified as male for years, and am still going through the process of transition. I’m vision impaired, and have a mildish hearing impairment in one ear. The hearing impairment is a bit of a long story that I’m sure I’ll tell you one day. In fact, I’m sure there will be quite a few long stories to tell. There are so many things I feel need to be said and stories that need to be told, and this seems like the best place for it.

 

I don’t yet have a complete picture of what I want this blog to be. There are things I want to share about being a trans man with a disability. There are plenty of human rights issues that I really care about for myself and others. Plus, I’m a bit of a gym junky, so I’ll probably end up talking about some of that as well.

 

I intend this site to be a safe space for myself and everyone who comes to read my posts and discuss them. Any forms of bigotry will not be tolerated. There will be posts to help people understand how to keep this a safe space. I’m also doing all I can to make sure this site is accessible to everyone. If you are using a screen reader or any other kind of assistive technology and you’re having trouble accessing my blog, please let me know.

 

There’s going to be quite a variety of topics for me to post about. I hope you find some posts that interest you, and that we can have some awesome conversations in the future. See, I did try not to ramble too much.

 

Cheers

Jasper

 

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My Contribution to a Collection of Stories of People With Disabilities

I have always had an interest in using my life experiences to support other people who may be facing similar issues. For a long time, I have also had a love for writing, but never any real focus or direction for this. I have recently been given an exciting opportunity to share my story for a book, which will be a collection of stories about people with disabilities.

 

Initially, I was just going to contribute my story and have it written by a more experienced writer. After some thought, I sent a message to one of the project managers, giving him the link to this blog, so that he could see my writing style on a few different topics. His reply was that he thought I’d be able to write my own story.

 

Writing about my life was a much bigger challenge than I had first anticipated. If I tried to start by choosing which topics I wanted to write about, I found myself unable to start writing. My thoughts wouldn’t flow, and any attempts were just a clunky mess. Eventually I decided to start at the beginning and just write. So I wrote, and kept on writing. While other people were celebrating Christmas and New Year’s, I wrote. In every available bit of time I had, I sat at my computer and just kept on writing. At the end of about 6 weeks, I had over 20000 words. The problem was that I was supposed to be writing a chapter, not a whole book, and I was told this chapter was supposed to be between 2000 and 4000 words.

 

It was a challenge to decide what messages I wanted to get across in my story, which parts of my life I was willing to share with the world, and which parts of what I’d written seemed like they would fit together in a way that made sense. I had to do a lot of editing and rewriting before I was willing to let the editor and project managers anywhere near it.

 

Another thing that I found challenging was settling on a writing style that I was comfortable with. I’ve always felt more at home with creative writing, so sitting down to write a large piece of non-fiction didn’t come easily. Once I allowed myself to bring some creativity into it, everything came together a lot more smoothly. For quite some time, my story had no beginning. I just couldn’t work out how to start it, how to set the scene. Then one day the whole first paragraph landed in my head, almost fully formed, and I had to rush off and write it down before it disappeared again. The descriptive style felt just right.

 

Last week I got my first draft back from the editor. So far, this part of the process is running much smoother than I expected. I have a few small changes to make, and only one significant structural change. I have found our editor to be very respectful of my story and of the messages I want to get across. I have not had to fight to keep the important bits, and there have been no changes that have altered the meaning of anything I’ve been trying to say.

 

I’m not at liberty to talk about the contents of the book. Sorry, you’ll just have to wait for the book. We plan to have a manuscript ready for publishing at the end of June, and to have books on shelves before Christmas.

 

I’d like to introduce you to the team involved in the project. Please click here to meet the team

 

If you’d like to know more about the project as we get closer to publishing and then sales, click here to follow us on Facebook

 

Communication-Friendly Eateries: my accessibility project, primarily for the deafblind community

Last October I was fortunate enough to win a youth leadership scholarship from Deaf Can:Do, the Royal South Australian Deaf Society. I was awarded this scholarship to help me to undertake a project to create a directory of cafes and restaurants that have good accessibility for those in the deafblind community. While my focus is on deafblind accessibility, I will also be sharing this resource with the Deaf community and the blind community. If there is anyone on the autism spectrum, or with any other sensory access needs, who is wondering if this resource could be helpful, please feel free to get in touch. I will provide ways to contact me at the end of this post.

In the middle of last year, when I took on my volunteer role with the deafblind community, one of the challenges that immediately presented itself was the issue of finding meeting places that were accessible for all of us. Given that the term “deafblind” refers to anyone with a combination of vision and hearing loss, our community has quite a wide range of access requirements. When this scholarship was advertised, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to address these issues.

Unfortunately, the project has been off to a slower start than I had originally hoped. This is partly due to the fact that I took on a couple of projects that started at around the same time as each other. In some ways, parts of the project have also been a bit more complex than I fully understood when I started out. I don’t see this as a major problem, but it is definitely a learning experience.

So far, this project has definitely had its challenges, but I believe that all of these can be worked through. When I started out, I thought I knew my own access needs quite well, and that I just needed to make enquiries into the access needs of others in the community. During this time, my hearing has been deteriorating, and so my needs have been changing. As I have had time to get to know more members of the deafblind community, I have also gained a better understanding of just how wide the range of access requirements actually is. To help me to get a clearer picture of what it would take for a café or restaurant to meet as many of these needs as possible, I have created a survey, which I am trying to circulate to as much of the community as I can reach.

Please click here to take my survey.

Although the focus is on the needs of deafblind people, I would also appreciate responses from people who are either Deaf/hard of hearing or blind/vision impaired. If you wish to fill out the survey from the perspective of a professional or a parent/caregiver, it would be preferable if you have some awareness of the specific needs of deafblind people. I really want this project to address the access requirements of as many people as possible.

As well as the main goal of putting together a directory of places that are accessible, I intend this project to be an opportunity for community education. I am hoping this will be an opportunity to raise awareness among business owners about what they can do to make their venues more accessible and how to be adaptable with their communication. If you’re reading this and you own or work in a café or restaurant and want to know more about how to make your venue more deafblind friendly, I would love to hear from you.

Once I have a detailed picture of the community’s needs, I will be traveling around Adelaide and surrounding suburbs, assessing cafes and restaurants to see which ones meet as many of these needs as possible. I hope that some of those that are less accessible will be open to making improvements. I am also hoping to collaborate with some disability organisations later on in the project to arrange training for venue owners and staff in how to provide assistance to deafblind customers. A couple of examples of this would be some basic Auslan training, and how to guide someone to a table.

For anyone interested in following the progress of this project, I have created a Facebook page. This will be a place for me to post updates and seek community input. This is also somewhere that I can mention eateries that don’t quite make the final directory, but which stand out in some way. I hope this will establish positive connections with these businesses, and be an opportunity for education on where they could improve in the future. Anyone is welcome to follow this page. I am passionate about community education, and I welcome questions and feedback.

To keep up-to-date with the project’s progress, or to send me messages on Facebook about anything relating to the project, please visit the

Communication-Friendly Eateries Facebook page

To send me an email,

jasper.cleland@gmail.com

 

 

Review of “Crisis of Conscience” by Raymond Franz

I had been wanting to read this book for a fews, and finally sat down and devoured it in every spair moment last week. I had heard that this book has helped a lot of people break away from Jehovah’s Witness brainwashing, so having been raised in the JW cult, I was very interested. I already didn’t believe in any of their teaching, or even in any kind of deity, but was interested to see what Ray Franz had to say about the organisation. Here is my review (also posted on Goodreads):

 

 

TRIGGER WARNINGS: sexual abuse and rape, brainwashing, violence, theft, ableism, sexual harassment, cults, forced marriage, cheating/adultery, homophobia, fascism/totalitarianism, racism, religious abuse, religious intolerance, antisemitism, child sexual abuse, paranoia, victim blaming, sociopathy, psychological abuse, sexism and misogyny

 

 

Ray Franz lived and worked in every level of the Jehovah’s Witness (JW) power structure, and was a member of their organisation for 43 years. This book is a very honest and illuminating account of his experiences and observations during that time, especially of the nine years he spent on the organisation’s governing body (the small group of men that dictate the doctrines and policies of the entire organisation).

 

Throughout the book, Ray shows a surprising level of compassion towards everyone involved in this power structure, even those on the governing body. Every detail of changes in doctrine or policy, cover-up, failed prophecy, and piece of misinformation, includes quotes sources, and photocopies of Watchtower Magazines and other JW publications, as well as copies of written correspondence between members of the organisation. Those who consider it relevant can also look up any of the bible passages that Ray sites to back up any of his beliefs and show problems and inconsistencies in JW doctrine. For anyone wanting to discount the book as being by someone who just wishes to create devision, or who is “spiritually weak”, Ray gives an account of his many years of service to the organisation, and the lengths he went to in dedicating his whole life and all his energy to the god he believed in.

 

Most of the book deals with Ray’s nine years of service on the governing body, (which from here on I will just refer to as the GB), starting in 1971. The GB had previously only been made up of the board of directors of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. We get a good look inside the workings of this highly secretive power structure, including how they make decisions on policies, doctrines, and restructuring of their power structure, how they respond to questions that arise from JWs outside of their headquarters, their reactions to their failed prophecies, and decisions about disciplinary action. We get to see just how much control the organisation has over very intimate details in the lives of JWs all over the world. These are the people that every JW must view as “God’s sole channel of communication and guideance on Earth”. Most JWs seem to view the Gb as a group of highly spiritual men, that every decision they make must be directed by some sort of “holy spirit”, and that they know and understand every verse in the bible. I have got the impression that the general impression is that GB sessions would involve sitting around praying together about every matter that needs discussing and that they would then turn to their bibles to find answers. Anyone who has this picture in their minds will likely find the reality in this book quite shocking.

 

Over time, the JWs have attached a lot of significance to certain dates, connecting them to interpretations of bible prophecies. The lengths they go to in attempts to cling to these, even when members of the GB are unsure whether to keep believing them, might be surprising to some readers. Their own publications try to gloss over any past teachings that they may find uncomfortable or embarrassing. They have worked to discredit archeological and historical evidence, to prop up members’ belief in prophecies that relate to certain dates. Several times while reading this book, I was reminded of 1984 by George Orwell.

 

Towards the end, Ray describes his being told to resign from the GB and from the organisation’s headquarters, and then the events that lead to his finally being completely outcast (disfellowshipped). He also tells of similar processes suffered by some of his closest friends. Some readers less familiar with the JW cult may be quite surprised by the incident that was used as the reason for the organisation’s final decision against Ray. I think it says a lot about what they are really like.

 

Unsurprisingly, I have heard “Crisis of Conscience” refered to as the final nail in the coffin of the watchtower. For the JW organisation, I think this book could definitely be considered the kind of “defining moment” mentioned in the following paragraph, taken from the foreword of Crisis of Conscience.

“IN THE HISTORY of a religious organization there can be defining moments, particular times and circumstances that allow for seeing beyond external appearance and recognizing the true character and essential spirit of the organization. The organization’s own self-image, its dominant cast of mind and outlook, its motivating force and its pattern of response to disagreement or challenge, can then be seen more clearly. The factors that come to light may have actually been there all along, at the inner core of the organization, but were beneath the surface, even at odds with external appearances and professed principles. The defining moment may produce a portrait that is disturbingly different from the image the organization holds in the minds of its membership, and that defining period may even escape their notice if those at the organization’s center can effectively suppress awareness of it.”

 

Any JW who is found to have read this book, or to express any similar oppinions or concerns that are mentioned in it, will suffer a lot of psychological abuse, including being “disfellowshipped”, resulting in being shunned by every person they know who is a JW, even their family. Anyone who has been a JW, who does not agree completely with every teaching of the organisation is viewed as an “apostate” and must be completely avoided at all costs. I think this quote is a perfect example of the level of mind control that is used: “The District Overseer, Bart Thompson, held up a Society publication that had a green cover. He then said to the assembly of elders, “If the Society told me that this book is black instead of green, I would say, ‘Y’know I could have sworn that it was green, but if the Society says it’s black, then it’s black!’””

 

Communication Difficulties in the Deafblind Community

As a follow-up to my previous post, I thought I’d end Deafblind Awareness Week with a discussion of some issues that have been on my mind over the past week. To anyone else with lived experience of deafblindness, please feel free to share your own experiences or helpful tips in the comments section. At this point it seems important to clarify that the term deafblindness refers to anyone who has a combination of vision and hearing impairment.

 

Last Tuesday, June 27th, I attended a lunch to celebrate Deafblind Awareness Week. We had some very tasty Indonesian food for lunch, and a visit from a positive and friendly guest speaker from the Health and Community Services Complaints Commission (HCSCC). The thing I found challenging at this lunch was that a lot of us had quite different levels of vision and hearing, this resulted in a range of communication needs.

 

My vision is a lot worse than my hearing, so I rely on my hearing for communication. At least one person had enough vision to see an interpreter signing. One person was using tactile sign. At least one person had a microphone they could pass around that transmitted straight to their hearing device. I think two of the people present were non-verbal, and a couple of people had voices that were sometimes harder to hear. I think at least one person chose where they sat based on which ear had better hearing so they had a better chance of hearing the guest speaker. As well as the need to let the world know how to communicate with us, I think we need to learn how to better communicate with each other.

 

I have been in settings a few other times where there has been an Auslan interpreter, but this is the first time where I’ve been in a room with several interpreters at once. I found it quite confusing. I have to wonder if the interpreters had only ever worked with deaf people and didn’t have much experience of communicating with vision impaired people. I can’t really tell when someone is speaking for themselves and when they are interpreting. Also, even if I know someone is interpreting, I don’t always know who they are interpreting for, so don’t know where to direct my reply.

 

I have a few ideas, and will be discussing them with friends in the local deafblind community when I get a chance. If there’s a setting that requires interpreters, I think it would be helpful to have introductions at the beginning. For example, “I’m Jane, and I’ll be interpreting for Bob,” and then if the interpreter has something to say for themselves during a conversation, “It’s Jane, I’m speaking for myself right now”. I know I need to get more comfortable with asking people what their communication needs are. I’ve been wondering about learning some form of tactile sign. I’ve also been wondering about how to make meeting spaces more accessible for hearing aids and any other hearing devices.

 

I have a lot to learn, and some questions to ask, and a few ideas to share. I’m looking forward to more involvement with the local deafblind community. I am aware the communication barriers mean it may be challenging to find deafblind people out there in our local community who aren’t aware of our little group or of services that are available to them. Also, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who, like me, haven’t realised that they fit into the term of deafblind because they aren’t totally deaf or blind.

 

Deafblind Awareness Week 2017 – My Experience With Dual Sensory Impairment

Hey everyone,

 

Appologies for the lack of posts so far this year. I’ve been busy just getting through life and dealing with people’s assorted forms of bigotry and nonsense.

 

Today is the start of Deafblind Awareness Week, so it seems like a good time to share some of my experiences of dual sensory impairment.

 

I’ve had very low vision for as long as I can remember. I don’t have any clear memories of all of the running around to doctors and specialists in the early days. From what I was told, it took a while to get a diagnosis, and when I did, it turned out to be incorrect. The ophthalmologist I saw throughout most of my childhood got carried away about a couple of observed symptoms and decided my case was exactly the same as a patient he’d seen just before my first appointment with him, and so diagnosed my condition as Rod Monochromatism. As far as I’m aware, he didn’t actually do any tests at all.

 

As time went on, I realised that people’s expectations of what I could see were very different to my own experiences. Around the time I started school, I was given these thick red glasses that I was told would make me see better. I wore them for a while, partly because they helped with my photophobia, and partly because I liked the colour. (Red has always been the colour I’m most able to see.) When I was six years old, I had an experience at school that made it clear to me that the glasses weren’t helping. I was eating my lunch at an outside table and looking around me, wondering where the duty teacher was. Frustrated, I took off my glasses and looked around me again. Suddenly, I could see the vague shapes that must be other tables with other kids at them, and a sort of person shape that was too tall to be another kid, so must be the duty teacher.

 

For years after that, I would ask more and more questions about my diagnosis, and try to explain what my experiences of my own vision actually were. It seems like most people don’t want to hear what a kid might have to say about their own life (something I also faced in other areas of my life). Twice that I am aware of, my vision has slightly deteriorated. The first drop in vision was around the time I started primary school. Before school, with much struggling and staring at the page, I could identify the letters in one of those large print alphabet books with the big pictures in it. Some of the pictures were a fuzzy mess to me, but some I could recognise the shape. I started learning Braille as soon as I started school. The second small drop in vision was when I was about 16 years old and had just started going to TAFE. The ophthalmologist had suggested my vision would stay the same, but this was likely because he had decided by then that I didn’t have any functional vision.

 

I asked around and found another ophthalmologist who seemed to have a good reputation, (not that reputation meant much to me at this point since everyone seemed to think my previous ophthalmologist was brilliant). Anyway, the new guy sent me off for all kinds of tests and eventually decided on a diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). The symptoms of RP fit better with what I can see. I’m not sure it explains everything about my vision, but it’s the closest diagnosis I’ve had, so I’m fine with that at least for now.

 

Somewhere around the age of 18 or 19, (it’s hard to remember exactly when), I started losing my hearing. It was getting harder and harder for me to communicate with people, especially if there was background noise. Despite the suggestions of a lot of people around me, it took me a long time to get my hearing tested. Because of my vision impairment, I had always relied a lot on my hearing, and I was in denial that there was anything wrong. Then something happened that dragged me out of denial and convinced me to get my hearing tested. I was hit by a car that was driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Fortunately the car was moving slowly, but no, the driver didn’t stop to check if I was ok. I was a bit sore for a while but didn’t seem to have any significant injuries and didn’t go to get myself checked out.

 

Not long after that, I went and got my hearing tested. The results weren’t good, and every subsequent test had worse and worse results. I was given two rather large hearing aids with those big chunky moulds that fill the whole ear. It took me a while to adjust to wearing them. I didn’t realise how much I’d got used to things being so quiet. After getting hearing aids, sensory overload was a regular problem for me. One day I was sitting outside with a friend from work. I’d moved house not long after starting to lose my hearing. I put my hearing aids in and said to my mate, “Wow! There are birds in this suburb after all!” I’d lived in the suburb for months without ever hearing birds.

 

Because my vision impairment had been diagnosed as RP, everyone involved in my healthcare seemed sure that I had Usher Syndrome. They seemed to become more convinced of this as my hearing got worse. Somewhere along the way I was warned that I could end up losing the rest of both my vision and hearing. This scared the absolute shit out of me. Having my ears filled up with some kind of putty so they could get the shape of my ears for the hearing aid moulds gave me a glimpse of what it would be like to be even more deaf than I already was, and it was terrifying. Someone suggested that I do some training under blindfold to prepare myself for the possibility of losing the rest of my vision, and I refused. That too was terrifying.

 

Eventually the subject was raised of my having the option to get a cochlear implant. I really didn’t understand much about how the implant worked or any risks involved, but I was losing my hearing fast and seemed to be out of options. There should have been more effort put into getting informed consent from a patient with dual sensory impairment. I only heard part of what was said to me in appointments, and rarely (if ever) had a support person present.

 

I’ll try to leave out any waffling and unnecessary details. Anyway, I ended up getting a cochlear implant. Fortunately, for some reason which was probably told to me without me hearing it, they only did an implant on the left side because my hearing was slightly worse on that side. I don’t know if they planned to see if that was successful and then do the right. The implant didn’t work. I was unable to learn to recognise any of the sounds that came from it. All of the specialists seemed baffled. Going through all of the stress of surgery for nothing was effecting my mental health. Communication after the implant was more of a struggle than before it. There was a bit of residual hearing in my left ear, but it was even worse as a result of the surgery.

 

Much to everyone’s confusion, and especially mine, the hearing in my right ear gradually started to improve. This is when all of the specialists realised they might have been headed down completely the wrong track. One of the specialists sent me off to see a psychiatrist who he had discussed my case with. It turned out my hearing loss was caused by Conversion Disorder, also known as Functional Neurological Disorder. This is a condition where trauma or psychological distress is converted into physical symptoms that have no other medical explanation.

 

It took maybe a couple of years for my right ear to have test results in the normal range, and another couple of years for my left ear to improve to just a mild hearing loss. For a while I stopped wearing hearing aids, but I still struggled in some settings. I now wear a hearing aid in my left ear. Hearing less in one ear than the other can really interfere with my sense of direction and distance. Think of it like how if you can see a bit less in one eye than the other it messes with your depth perception. Having a hearing aid really improves this for me. For some reason I am still often prone to sensory overload. My vision seems to have stayed the same for quite a long time now, but there’s no way of knowing if it will deteriorate further until it happens. As far as I know, it’s possible for my conversion disorder to relapse and for me to lose hearing again, but it’s been stable for a few years now and I’m hoping it stays that way.

 

I was surprised and a little bit confused when I was recently invited to get involved in the local deafblind community. It had been quite a few years since I had thought of myself as deaf, and so I worried that I would be an outsider. However, the community seems to be made up of people with varying degrees of deafblindness. We still have shared experiences of the issues that are specific to having a dual sensory impairment. In the future, I am hoping to take on some voluntary work in the deafblind community.

 

I’m not sharing this as inspiration porn or pity porn. I’m just sharing it as one person’s experience, to help raise awareness of the many different experiences people may have of deafblindness.

 

All I Want for Christmas is Two Less Moobs

Does anyone remember that song that goes “all I want for Christmas is my two front teeth”? Well, if I was to rewrite the song for myself it would go something like “all I want for Christmas is two less moobs”. The last time I did anything for Christmas was in 2012, and even that year I told family we could catch up but I couldn’t afford to do presents.

 

The next step in my medical transition from female to male is top surgery (chest reconstructive surgery). I’ve been saving for this for over five years, and as time has gone on my saving has gotten stricter. The only thing I spend money on that I could call fun is my gym membership, and I didn’t initially decide to do that because I enjoyed it. I needed to get down to a healthier weight and build up a bit of muscle to get the best possible results from surgery. Fortunately it turned out that I do actually enjoy going to the gym.

 

The only present I wish for this Christmas is a bit of help with saving for top surgery. I started a GoFundMe campaign a few months ago, and I really appreciate the few donations I’ve received. If anyone wants to give me anything for Christmas, this is the thing that would have a huge impact on my life. It’s a present that will last me a lifetime. The dysphoria I experience constantly because of having parts of my body that don’t match my identity really messes with my mental health.

 

Also, if anyone would be happy to share the link to my GoFundMe campaign on their own blog or facebook page or twitter feed or anywhere else you can think of, that would be really awesome. Thanks for your support.

 

Here’s the link:

gofundme.com/2fnzk8es

 

The Motivation That Started My Fitness Journey

Some people seem to be able to jump straight into regular exercise, purely for the fun of it. Personally, maybe because of struggling with long-term mental illness, I often need to find a reason to convince myself to do things. So why am I spending so much time in the gym?

 

Since 2010, it’s been my goal to get top surgery (chest reconstructive surgery) as part of my transition. I started testosterone injections in February 2013, and between the increased appetite from the change in hormones, side-effects from other medications, and mental health issues, I put on quite a lot of weight.

 

It wasn’t really until some time in 2014 that I decided I needed to do something about getting into better shape. I realized that if I was going to get the best possible results from top surgery, I needed to lose some weight and at least tone up my muscles a bit.

At first, the only changes I made were going for walks a few times a week and eating less junkfood. I ate more fresh fruits and veggies, and cut down the sugar and fat and simple carbs. I walked around my local area for about an hour at least three times a week, as well as all the walking I end up doing because of relying on public transport. I started trying not to sit for too long without getting up and moving around a bit. Just with these few small changes, I lost about 18kg in a bit under a year and a half.

 

As often happens, things gradually slowed down, and I realized I would have to do something different if I wanted to keep making progress. I decided it was time to join a gym. Fortunately, I managed to find one where the staff are really positive and friendly and supportive.

 

I wanted to focus on building up my pecs, because I thought that would give me the best results after top surgery. It didn’t take me long to realise it was important to work on all of my muscles. At first, I can’t say it was exactly fun. I hadn’t been in a gym for at least a few years, and I was quite unfit. A few sessions with a personal trainer helped me get started on the right track and kept me motivated through the initial slog.

 

After a while, I actually started enjoying training. I got competitive with myself, trying to get better and better at each new exercise I learned. In the last 16 months, I’ve made quite a bit of progress, but still have a lot of work ahead of me. Getting top surgery won’t be the end of my fitness journey. In fact, given how much more comfortable I’ll be with my body, it will likely be the beginning of something bigger and better.